Category Archives: extinction

Final effort to save tiny rabbits from extinction

THE HINDU

Wildlife experts are making one last effort to save the endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, believed to be extinct in the wild since mid-2004.

The pygmy rabbit is the smallest rabbit in North America, and can fit in a person’s hand. Adults weigh about a pound and measure less than a foot in length. The previous effort to reintroduce the pygmy in 2007 ended badly, when they were quickly gobbled by their many predators.

Some 100 pygmy rabbits are being released this time into large wire enclosures.

The rabbits “who were raised in captivity for this last-ditch effort” must learn quickly to find food, breed and avoid being eaten. The wire enclosures give them a fighting chance to survive, scientists say.

“If this doesn’t work, I’m not sure what Plan B would be,” said Matt Monda of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who has been working for years to save the endangered species.

Only the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is endangered. Pygmy rabbits thrive in other Western states and are not protected.

This recovery effort is not without some controversy.

A big concern was all the engineering that has gone into these animals, Monda said. The original goal was to preserve the genetics of the Columbia Basin rabbit, but that proved impossible because of small numbers and problems that resulted from inbreeding.

The animals in the new effort are the result of cross-breeding with other pygmy rabbits from Idaho and Oregon.

“That was a controversial idea, to bring non-endangered rabbits and make them endangered,” Monda said.

Still, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have approved the practice, said agency biologist Chris Warren, who is involved in the rescue effort.

A key feature of this new rescue effort is a six-acre enclosure with a 6-foot-tall wire fence is intended to keep out coyotes, badgers, weasels, snakes and to disrupt birds of prey. It has an electrified wire near the bottom to keep predators from digging under. The fence posts have spikes on top to prevent raptors from gaining a perch to hunt.

The enclosure surrounds plenty of sagebrush for food, and has dozens of artificial and real burrows where the rabbits can hide and, hopefully, breed.

Once the rabbits grow used to the big enclosure, they are being moved two at a time to smaller enclosures, where they are gradually introduced to predators through tunnels to the outside. Finally they are released outright.

Monda acknowledged the effort is somewhat unusual, in part because the rabbits bred in the safety of facilities at Washington State University, the Oregon Zoo and Northwest Trek have to be taught to fear predators. So far, the experiment appears to be a success, as some rabbits have already survived for weeks.

The project manager is Penny Becker, who was hired earlier this year after spending several years working on the recovery of wild dogs in South Africa.

Becker spends her days checking on her charges, including tracking those equipped with radio collars. A signal that does not move for six hours is presumed to be a dead rabbit.

Becker and assistant Chad Eidson travel to the many small enclosures as they chart the progress of each rabbit. All are numbered and some have names.

Predators are not the only issue. Conventional mating is difficult because female pygmy rabbits will only briefly tolerate the presence of males, and often fight with them, the scientists say.

Monda estimated that researchers have spent up to $250,000 a year for 10 years on work to save the rabbits.

The exact reasons for the disappearance of the rabbits in the Columbia River Basin of eastern Washington State are not clear.

But the basin was extensively developed for wheat and potato farming after Grand Coulee Dam was finished in the 1940s. It turned out the soft soil the rabbits need was also the most prized by farmers. Rabbit numbers started to slump as their habitat disappeared. But Monda also suspects that disease or freak weather took a heavy toll because numbers dropped very quickly two decades ago.

“Seven distinct populations happened to die out at the same time,” he said.

An environmental group that has advocated for the rabbits also believes there is no choice other than the current reintroduction.

“This is the last chance of saving any remnant of the pygmy rabbit,’” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland, Oregon.

But, Greenwald said, “We got to this point because we didn’t take action to save the rabbit in the first place.”

If enough survive to reproduce next year it will be a measure of the program’s success, Monda said.

“We need a new explosion of kits (babies) on the ground,” Monda said. “We need Washington genes on the ground.”

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Costa Rican Plants in Danger of Extinction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COSTA RICA NEWS

A total of 27 plant species from the mountainous region shared by Costa Rica and Panama have been declared endangered.

 

The warning is the result of an investigation by the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio), which assessed the conservation status of 200 species in the area of La Amistad International Park.

 

According to biologist Frank Gonzalez, who is the head of the herbarium of INBio, nine of the 27 species listed are exclusive to Costa Rica and the Cordillera de Talamanca.

 

Gonzalez said that danger threaten trees, shrubs and creeping herbs, but a few have common names like cedro macho (Brunellia costaricensis), poor umbrella (Gunnera talamancana), Batambo (Chusquea costaricensis), and black oak (Quercus costaricensis).

 

The categorization of these 27 species as endangered took into account geographical criteria and reduction of the size of the population, said Gonzalez.

 

Gonzalez attributed habitat degradation to two factors related to human activity: deforestation and agricultural activities.

 

The investigation also involved the National Environmental Authority of Panama, and the Natural History Museum in London.

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Seagrass at risk of extinction

SCIENCE ALERT – UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA

A species of seagrass found only in western and southern Australian waters is at risk of extinction, according to a four-year international study.

The seagrass – Posidonia sinuosa – is one of 10 seagrasses worldwide identified in the study that are in danger of being lost forever, according to one of the study’s authors, Winthrop Professor Gary Kendrick of the Oceans Institute at The University of Western Australia.

Posidonia sinuosa is found in Western Australia from Kalbarri through to Eyre on the south coast and also in Cockburn Sound, which has had declining populations for several decades.  The seagrass is also found along the South Australian coast as far as Encounter Bay.

“Posidonia sinuosa is declining at an alarming rate – about 1.2 per cent every year,” Professor Kendrick said.  The loss of seagrasses has significant repercussions for both ocean ecosystems and for humans.

Seagrass meadows provide homes, food and nurseries for countless marine creatures, including commercial fish and crustaceans such as the western rock lobster.

They are also a major sink for carbon dioxide and are being developed as valuable ecosystems in the global carbon market.

“Globally, the biggest threat to seagrasses is coastal development,” Professor Kendrick said.

“Degraded water quality and the mechanical damage from dredging and port, industrial and urban growth on the coast are other major factors.

“Perhaps surprisingly for many people, climate change isn’t identified as a threat. Seagrasses are, in fact, one of the few groups expected to benefit from climate change.”

The seagrass study involved more than 20 leading researchers who used the Red List criteria of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to determine the conservation status of 72 seagrass species.

It found that Posidonia sinuosa was in the ‘vulnerable’ category, the second highest threat classification after ‘endangered’, according to the IUCN system.

“This latest study is the product of four years of international workshops and input from hundreds of seagrass experts,” Professor Kendrick said.  “It will provide policy makers around the world with an official guide for seagrass conservation.”

The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation and is available online.

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Four primates in Indonesia on the brink of extinction

Wahyoe Boediwardhana

Four primates in Indonesia have been included on the list of 25 primates across the world on the brink of extinction.

The four primates are the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), Siau tarsius (Tarsius tumpara), the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus) and Simakubo or pig-tailed langur (Simias concolor).

ProFauna Indonesia chairman Rosek Nursahid said that the International Union for Conservation of Nature had been warning of the matter from as far back as 2000, but there had been no serious response from the government to protect the animals.

Read the rest at the JAKARTA POST

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Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Boreal Toads

For Immediate Release, May 25, 2011

Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity,             (651) 955-3821
Megan Mueller, Center for Native Ecosystems,             (303) 546-0214       x 6
Erik Molvar, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance,             (307) 742-7978

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Boreal Toads

Once Common in West, Toad Suffers Sharp Declines From Disease, Habitat Destruction

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Native Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect boreal toads under the federal Endangered Species Act. The unique population of boreal toads native to the southern Rocky Mountains, Utah, southern Idaho and northeastern Nevada is in steep decline due to disease and habitat destruction.

“Boreal toads need protection under the Endangered Species Act to have any shot at survival,” said attorney and biologist Collette Adkins Giese of the Center for Biological Diversity. “By addressing threats like the destruction of wetland habitat we can still save these rare amphibians. But the window of opportunity is closing fast.”

Once widely distributed and common in the western United States, the boreal toad has experienced dramatic declines over the past few decades. Impacts have been severe in the southern Rocky Mountains, where a globally occurring amphibian disease known as chytrid fungus has wiped out most remaining boreal toad populations.

Endangered Species Act protection for the toad will increase federal funding for research to stem the deadly chytrid fungus and help save high-elevation stream and wetland habitat from threats like pollution and poorly managed recreation and livestock grazing.

“The boreal toad is the region’s only alpine, forest-dwelling toad,” said conservation biologist Megan Mueller of the Center for Native Ecosystems. “This unique toad is an indicator of the environmental health of our mountain streams and wetlands. The protections of the Endangered Species Act are needed to help safeguard the boreal toad from slipping over the brink of extinction.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service must determine whether the petition has merit within 90 days and make a final finding on toad protection within a year.

Background
In response to a petition filed by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation (later incorporated into the Center for Biological Diversity), the Service determined in 1995 that boreal toads in the southern Rockies deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act but that higher priority actions precluded listing. The agency added the southern Rocky Mountain population to its candidate list, which currently includes more than 250 species, most of which have been waiting decades for protection.

To make matters worse, under the Bush administration, in 2005, the Service reversed course and removed boreal toads from the candidate list. The agency concluded that boreal toads in the southern Rockies were not “significant” in part because they appeared genetically similar to other populations found elsewhere in the West.

Since then, two genetic studies have proven that boreal toads in the southern Rockies are part of an evolutionarily significant “clade” that includes boreal toads in Utah, northeastern Nevada and southern Idaho. This group of boreal toads contains as much genetic diversity as previously recognized species. Today’s petition seeks federal protection for these genetically unique boreal toads that are experiencing significant declines in population size and distribution. Alternatively, the petition asks the Service to provide Endangered Species Act protection for boreal toads in the southern Rocky Mountains only.

Mounting scientific evidence shows that amphibians are among the most imperiled species on Earth. Globally, 1,898 species of amphibians, or 30 percent of the 6,296 evaluated existing amphibian species, were deemed at risk of extinction in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2010 Red List. In the United States, 56 amphibians, or about 20 percent, are at risk of dying out. Ubiquitous toxins, global warming, ozone depletion, introduction of nonnative fish and habitat destruction are key factors leading to their demise.

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Nearly 200 tigers fell prey to poaching in last 12 years

THE HINDU

Nearly 200 tigers were killed by poachers in and around various forest reserves in the country [India], in the last 12 years, news that points out the danger that the national animal faces in its habitat.

Besides, 250 wild cats died of natural causes including old age, in fighting, starvation, road and rail accidents, electrocution and weakness during this period.

According to an RTI reply from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, 447 wild cats were reportedly found dead between 1999 and March 2011 in and around a number of natural habitats for tigers, of which 197 were poached.

The ministry also noted that poaching was the major cause behind disappearance of tigers from Sariska and Panna reserves.

“The cases of local extinction of tigers were reported in Sariska, Rajasthan (2005) and Panna, Madhya Pradesh (2008). As reported, poaching of tigers was the major cause of their extinction,” National Tiger Conservation Authority under the MoEF said in reply to an RTI query filed by PTI.

A highest of 36 each tigers were poached in 2001 and 2002, followed by 24 each in 1999 and in 2010, it said. Two tigers were found to be killed in poaching between January and March 17 this year, the reply said.

Whereas 20 wild cats were killed in 2003, 17 in 2009, 10 in 2007, nine each in 2000 and 2008, and five fell prey to hunters in 2006, it said.

The ministry, however, did not give details of action taken reports in the cases of poaching, saying that concerned state governments were the custodian of information.

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Antimalarial trees in East Africa threatened with extinction

BIOLOGY NEWS NET

Research released in anticipation of World Malaria Day finds that plants in East Africa with promising antimalarial qualities—ones that have treated malaria symptoms in the region’s communities for hundreds of years—are at risk of extinction. Scientists fear that these natural remedial qualities, and thus their potential to become a widespread treatment for malaria, could be lost forever.

A new book by researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Common Antimalarial Trees and Shrubs of East Africa, provides a detailed assessment of 22 of the region’s malaria-fighting trees and shrubs. While over a thousand plant species have been identified by traditional healers as effective in the prevention or treatment of malaria symptoms, the species in the book were assigned by both traditional medicinal practitioners and scientists as those that have potential for further study.

According to researchers, many species of trees in East Africa are at high risk of extinction due to deforestation and over-exploitation for medicinal uses. Scientists in the field have been able to identify at-risk tree species, including those that have antimalarial qualities, by monitoring deforestation in the region and by talking to herbalists and local communities. According to researchers, not all species of antimalarial trees are at risk, particularly those that grow wild in lowland and coastal areas.

ICRAF is doing its part preserving these trees and shrubs by holding samples of most of the species with antimalarial qualities in its genebank and growing these trees in plant nurseries at its headquarters in Nairobi. The ICRAF genebank holds close to 200 species, of which at least 30 are known to have antimalarial properties.

The field data was gathered by ICRAF scientists conducting research across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, where they met with approximately 180 herbalists and 100 malaria patients in 30 separate communities. KEMRI supported the process by supplying the information about each plant’s chemical compound make-up—research that is the result of a sophisticated laboratory process developed by KEMRI for testing natural products.

“We’ve only scratched the surface on the potential value of these plants. Although widely used by farmers and people in rural communities, most of this information has never been collected in a comprehensive way by researchers,” said Dr. Geoffrey Rukunga, Director of KEMRI’s Centre for Traditional Medicine and Drug Research and one of the book’s co-authors. “Going forward, I’d like to see more investment and more research on the power of these plants to fight the scourge of malaria and other diseases.”

One of the drugs most widely used historically to treat malaria, quinine, was derived from the bark of the Cinchona tree in South America. Today, the world’s newest, most-effective therapeutic treatment for malaria also comes from a plant, the Artemisia annua shrub. However, access to malaria therapies based on artemisinin compounds remains low—around 15 percent in most parts of Africa and well below the World Health Organizations’ 80 percent target.

Additionally, the malaria parasite’s ability to resist artemisinin is already beginning to emerge in Southeast Asia. This comes years after the World Health Organization labeled the spreading resistance of malaria to cheap and widely available drugs such as chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine as a major public health problem. The increasing failure of once-effective malaria drugs has added urgency to the search for promising new targets.

Malaria still kills some 800,000 people per year, the majority of whom are children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. A lack of access to doctors and drugs leaves many communities in Africa with few alternatives other than looking for natural remedies to address symptoms of malaria, including high fever, severe headaches, bone aches, nausea and vomiting.

“We’re not saying that using these medicinal plants is a replacement for common prevention treatments like bed nets or effective medicines like ACT,” said Dr Najma Dharani, a Consultant Research Scientist at the ICRAF in Nairobi, Kenya, who led the field research portion of the study. “But we believe that it’s worth learning from communities that have been treating malaria symptoms with plants for hundreds of years. We need to do more research because one of these plants could prove to be the next Artemisia, and we need to do our best to preserve the plants that are going extinct.”

Indeed, without clear research or proper guidance for their sustainable use, many of the plants with medicinal properties are being over-exploited and are in danger of extinction. One such plant, which is critically endangered in Kenya and threatened in other regions, is Zanthoxylum chalybeum, commonly known as “Knobwood.” It grows in dry woodlands or grasslands of eastern and southern Africa and has been found to have antimalarial properties that need to be further explored. An extraction process from leaves, bark or root is used to effectively treat a malarial fever in many communities. Other uses for the plant include infusing tea with the leaves, making toothbrushes, and using the seeds as beads in traditional garments. The African wild olive (Olea europaea Africana), also threatened in East Africa due to over-exploited for timber, contains organic extracts with significant levels of antimalarial activity, and is used to treat malarial and other fevers. The plant also acts as a natural laxative to expel parasites or tapeworms.

“Throughout my eight years of research in Africa, I have seen that we have an entire pharmacy in our farms and in our forests. We have plants that should be used by scientific companies to develop more options for malaria drugs,” said Dr. Dharan. “And we cannot become complacent and rely on one herb, because we’ve learned that developing resistance is likely.”

Beyond the complicated process to extract and test antimalarial compounds from these trees, scientists have struggled to track or replicate the treatment process as it occurs in communities. Besides the plant itself, there may be other factors contributing to a malaria patient’s recovery. For example, a healer may combine one plant with another that changes its chemical compound and boosts its effectiveness. Unless more is done to understand these processes in the field, scientists in laboratories and researchers at major drug companies will lose that knowledge.

“While we’ve made scientific progress identifying these compounds over the last few years, the fact is that we may lose these important trees before we’ve had a chance to understand their ability to defend us against malaria, a disease that devastates Africa—killing hundreds of thousands of our children and costing us billions of dollars in productivity year after year,” said Dr. Rukunga. “We need to approach this as an opportunity on multiple fronts: to preserve the biodiversity that may hold the next cure, to strengthen the research done on the ground in communities, and to continue our diligent work testing our natural resources in the lab.”

Source : k.langford@cgiar.org

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